Pollution should be seen as a public health concern and an environmental problem as the UK population is being exposed to a ‘daily cocktail of pollution’, says England’s chief medical officer.
Prof Dame Sally Davies called on the government to do more to tackle the dangerous levels of pollution in the country. She suggested introducing new legislation and national standards in order to combat the threat.
‘Instead of being seen as a health issue, pollution is often seen primarily as an environmental problem. This needs to change. As a society we need to regain a focus on pollution as a threat to human health,’ she said.
The warning was issued as part of her annual report, which also said the NHS could make a big difference in the fight against air pollution. She said that 5% of journeys using polluting vehicles was associated with the health service, due to either staff or patients travelling.
Prof Davies suggested the the NHS could help reduce the burden by extending services closer to peoples homes, stepping-up the phasing out of diesel ambulances used by the service and by cutting its use of disposable plastics.
She said that the threat of pollution was real and contributed to non-communicable disease like cardiovascular disease, asthma and cancer: ‘Addressing pollution is therefore disease prevention.’
The government’s current air quality strategy has been branded unlawful by the high court and minsters have been criticised for failing to produce acceptable plans to tackle poor air quality.
‘This increases the risk for some of the most vulnerable members of our society and places a huge burden on our health service,’ she added
Currently, around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are attributed to air pollution. This is due to its effect on those with respiratory problems and children, whose exposure can lead to permanent damage later on in life.
Dame Sally also said more research was needed into the effects of pollution: ‘We urgently need to up our game and gather better information on how factors like light, noise and chemical pollution are affecting us.’